I need to become more skilled in the art of listening, especially to my paintings. We all know from experience that there is a discrepancy between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ but is it possible that we only hear what we want to hear when we should be listening to what is actually being said.
These thoughts were prompted by a recent radio programme where people from various backgrounds were talking about their listening experiences. One was about listening to whales, how through constant listening they were able to distinguish the progression in the songs over time. How the sounds when you really tuned in to them became not at all random but had meaning and tunes.
Another was about the sounds of birds on a wild moorland during the night and early morning, when all that could be heard was birdsong and in which the lonely, cold listener was able to distinguish one species from another even though there might be a cacophony of sounds.
A further contributor was a female international rescue worker who was able, after an earthquake in India, to hear the faint voices of two little boys who had been there for five days. She was able to locate the spot where they were and save them because she had developed her listening skills, she had an ‘ear’ for it.
Finally there was the example of when student doctors first listen through a stethoscope they hear nothing. They have to learn to tune in to the small sounds, they cannot do it by reading a book about it they just have to do it a lot to be able to hear the things that are meaningful.
If I apply these same principles to the creation and development of a piece of artwork, then my feeling is that there is much to be gained from first of all doing it a lot and secondly listening to it a lot is never a waste of time. We can learn techniques and skills, we can learn to see a little better but how do we learn to listen, to give up our own determinations and listen to what the work is saying to us.
Helen Frankenthaler said ‘As a picture develops, colour always comes out of drawing. I never start out only with colour. I start out as a spacemaker on a flat thing. But colour is the first thing on the picture plane........Colour is also important to my ‘process’. It’s born out of mood, idea, luck imagination, risk into what might even be ugly; THEN I LET IT TELL ME WHAT MIGHT/SHOULD BE USED NEXT until I get light and order that satisfies to perfection. The result is colour and space and, I hope A BEAUTIFUL MESSAGE.
Helen clearly was a listener and that is what I aspire to do with the paintings and drawings I make, try really listening not just hearing, try to tune in to the message every drawing and painting has to give. It will not be easy, I will have to ‘do it a lot’ to become receptive to what Helen says is a beautiful message.
Just as a footnote to refer to last night’s life drawing session where twenty artists were busy drawing and painting Jazz(,our model not the music) there were some beautiful small drawings and some rather spectacular large paintings, now can we all sit quietly and listen to them (the music not the model).
by Sandra Cowper
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Cathy, Colette, Fiona, Hadyn, Jane, Joanne, Patrick, Paul, Roger, Sandra, Steven, Sue, Tom, Tony, Yvonne and featured artist Russell.